THE SECRET VOICE OF GINA ZHANG by Dori Jone Yang
From School Library Journal: On Jinna's first day of school in this country, she is nervous and confused. Her parents expect her to learn English quickly, but when she is asked to repeat a word in her ESL class, she finds she cannot speak at all, not even in Chinese. The problem grows worse and worse, until Jinna's inability to talk leads her fifth-grade classmates and teachers to believe she is slow or just trying to get attention. Only at home, while inventing the story of Princess Jade-Blossom, which she acts out with characters made of yarn, can Jinna find the courage to speak English. But this is her own secret world, one that she doesn't want to share with anyone, not even Priscilla, the lonely outcast who gradually becomes her friend. Priscilla helps Jinna find the courage to speak in her own way, to prove that even though she finds it hard to talk, she is learning; and that she, too, is brave, clever, and noble, like the princess in her imagination. Wonderfully crafted, with believable and sympathetic characters, Gina Zhang draws readers into Jinna's world of fear and frustration. Princess Jade-Blossom's adventures in the Land of Far Away are interwoven throughout Jinna's own story, paralleling the challenges she faces in her new life in Seattle. This moving and absorbing novel conveys the terrors of having to adapt to a new school and a new language.
My Thoughts: This is an unusual pick for me. First, it's out-of-print and unable to find on IndieBound (which is why I linked to Amazon). Second, it skews older (I'd say 6th grade level) than the books I usually post about. Third, this is kind of a sad book. I cried and cried when I read this, feeling so bad for Jinna who suffers from selective mutism. But from the parents' seemingly unsympathetic attitude to the Priscilla's selfishness all the characters are so real and human; I feel anyone who reads this will come away with a more open mind and a feeling of needed compassion for immigrant children (and adults) who have come to make a new country their home.